By James McBride
I picked up this book because I was looking for novels in stories. I found a long list of them somewhere online, this one was on it and looked interesting, so I had nothing else to base my selection on other than that. (I wasn’t familiar with James McBride despite the fact he’s a National Book Award winner.) Let me start by saying, it’s not exactly a novel in stories. It’s more like short stories in short stories, or often, just short stories. Despite the fact I’m a flash fiction slush reader, I’m not a huge short story reader – I don’t normally write them either. Possibly because my thought process runs on longer than it should, but for whatever reason, I don’t inhale literary magazines or look for short story collections. So, I almost didn’t read this book once I realized the format wasn’t quite what I was looking for. But that mindset lasted about two paragraphs into the first story, “The Under Graham Railroad Boxcar Set”, and I was hooked.
In addition to not being a novel linked by stories, there’s also no clear-cut theme running through them. The above mentioned story is about a vintage toy seller who stumbles upon a once in a lifetime find (the kind that will set him up for life) of a one of a kind toy train that’s kept in a shoe box on top of the refrigerator by a poor preacher – who will go to extremes to spread the gospel.
Next up was a section called “The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band” that walks the reader through the life and denizens of a neighborhood called The Bottom. I would have been happy to have read a whole novel focused on this community. The narrator’s voice is so spectacular that I don’t think I knew his name until the last story – and I honestly didn’t care because the picture of his life and neighbors was so vivid, I was swept up by it.
While the book as a whole doesn’t follow just one theme, there are strong themes in each story. “The Christmas Dance” explores lasting friendship, love, and honor. “Father Abe” and “The Fish Man Angel” proves that wisdom can come from unexpected sources (with the added benefit that “Father Abe” was a truly poignant story). “Mr. P & The Wind” is a section narrated by a lion, which explores the philosophy of the soul. “The Mourning Bench” had possibly the best antagonist I’ve read in a long time – I want to create one just like him.
So, if you’re only a fan of full novels, you might want to give this one a pass. But if you’re a short story or novella fan, I highly recommend it. Now, I need to see what else my library has by James McBride in stock.
I’ve rated this book 3.5 stars.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.